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Children needing protection: experience from South Asia
  1. D G Harendra de Silva
  1. D G Harendra de Silva, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, Thalagolla Road, Ragama, Sri Lanka; harendra51{at}

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As in many societies, child abuse is often denied in the Indian subcontinent. Probably one of the oldest recorded tales of child abuse is a 2500-year-old Buddhist story called Sopaka.1 A jealous stepfather ties Sopaka to a corpse in a cemetery to be eaten by wolves. Buddha releases the boy and preaches to him, probably one of the earliest recorded instances of counselling. Buddhist scriptures also record the story of the boy Mattakundali,2 whose miserly father neglects him and deprives him of medical care.

Most forms of child abuse have been described in South Asia. In addition, a new form of child abuse – the conscription of children during armed conflict – has emerged relatively recently, especially in Sri Lanka and Nepal.


In Sri Lanka, there is evidence that the ancient kings Voharika Tissa (214–236 AC), Vijayabahu II (1186–1187) and Vijayabahu III (1232–1236) were influenced by compassion. Non-violence in Buddhism prohibited any bodily harm, by way of punishment, of children and adults.3 However, Sri Lanka went through a phase of denial, acceptance and justification of corporal punishment as a norm for the sake of “discipline” and “education”, an attitude which was especially promoted during the colonial past to facilitate foreign rule,3 4 and which still persists in society today. The Education Ordinance of 1939 of Ceylon,5 which was in effect until recently, even after the signing of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC),6 permitted caning of a child. A new circular in 2001 banning corporal punishment and sent with a booklet to teachers7 by the Ministry of Education Sri Lanka, led to many unpublished controversies within the teaching profession and political circles, including the destruction of the booklet without distribution in some schools.

A high prevalence and frequency …

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